Healthcare must overcome ‘automation anxiety’ to beat its burnout crisis  

Healthcare must overcome ‘automation anxiety’ to beat its burnout crisis  

To lighten pressures on healthcare organisations, improve efficiency and accelerate patient care, new technologies must be adopted within the workplace. Dr Kit Latham, Co-founder & CEO of Credentially, tells us how automation could be the key to saving this sector. 

Currently operating in a state of ‘permacrisis’, healthcare organisations and their staff are struggling under immense pressure to treat patients with increasingly complex needs. With budgets tighter than ever, and the impact of the pandemic continuing to impact service delivery, healthcare teams are burning out at a dangerous rate.  

Today, healthcare staff are three times more likely than other sectors to report burnout. This is having a devastating impact on all aspects of healthcare: from the hospital floor to the administration office, laboratory, pharmacy and ambulance stations. 

In the UK, chronic staff shortages mean that staff regularly work overtime or cancel planned leave to help out desperate colleagues. Yet, despite their tireless efforts, elective care waiting lists are predicted to exceed 10 million by March 2024 and up to 22,0000 appointments are cancelled every single day.  

Salvation via technology? 

Clearly, today’s crisis is a threat to the long-term viability of the public healthcare model. As a doctor with experience working in the NHS, I’m well aware that the root causes are both complex and multiple, and there’s not one single solution that ‘fixes’ the high rates of burnout. 

However, the last five years have seen a huge uptick in the rate of innovation in health tech. Huge efforts and investments have been directed towards building technologies designed specifically to streamline operations and reduce workloads for staff. These include automated patient communication software, automated HR platforms to accelerate hiring and onboarding, smart rota planning programmes and AI-powered diagnostic support tools.  

Advances in Machine Learning and Artificial are cause for hope for the future of healthcare services. The solutions that are being developed, piloted and implemented have a pivotal role to play in re-balancing system demand with capacity in a sustainable way.  

However, this cannot happen unless the technologies are deployed to their full potential. This is far from the case today. One factor limiting the pace and scale of tech adoption is a reluctance from some healthcare workforce members to engage with automation software, and a preference to stick with traditional, manual processes.   

Automation anxiety  

The term ‘automation anxiety’ can be applied in this context to summarise the negative feeling and lack of enthusiasm towards deploying automation technologies in a healthcare setting.  

Automation anxiety can be experienced even by the most tech-savvy and passionate staff members – this is not a condition of ignorance, close-mindedness or an indication that employees do not want what’s best for their patients. Rather, automation anxiety can be triggered by a range of factors, including job security concerns, patient safety worries or inadequate training or time to engage with new tech initiatives.  

The crux of the problem is that without deploying automation technologies quickly and widely across healthcare systems, staff will have to work in environments that are increasingly overstretched and under-resourced. This will increase rates of burnout and worsen workforce shortages in a vicious cycle. Thus, maintaining the status quo is not an option. Instead, healthcare leaders must look to support their staff to overcome automation anxiety and engage with new technology.  

Five ways to support staff in successfully adopting new tech  

  1. Addressing misconceptions 
    By encouraging open dialogue in the workplace, leaders can learn more about the fears and concerns that might lie behind a reluctance to use new technologies. If, for example, the staff are concerned about data breaches and complications during CQC inspection, leaders can put in place mechanisms for users to check the security credentials and verifications of the technology for themselves.  

Automation technologies are designed to improve patient safety and reduce the risk of CQC penalty. If there are fears about new technologies ‘replacing’ staff, educate your employees on how these tools have been introduced to support – not replace – workers.  

  1. Onboarding and training   
    A very common reason why staff don’t feel confident using automation software is that they’ve never been shown how to access login details, navigate the platform or use it to its full potential. This scenario can be avoided by ensuring that new tools are comprehensively rolled out in the organisation and that they are carefully selected to have an excellent user experience. They should also be easy to navigate and ensure that all users receive comprehensive training resources.  
  1. Work with early adopters in the team    
    Peers are more influential than managers when it comes to encouraging the adoption of new working practices. Leaders can lean into this when rolling out a new tech tool by encouraging team members to spread the news to others. These evangelists can support and inspire colleagues to engage with new technologies and may even help with training and troubleshooting in the early stages of the rollout.  
  1. Promote the advantages and benefits   
    The most impactful way to help colleagues overcome anxiety is to showcase how automation software can save them time, reduce their workloads and significantly cut down onerous paperwork. For example, on account of the litany of checks and verification processes that healthcare HR teams and new candidates must complete, it can take up to 60 days for hires to start working. Not only does this process pile a huge volume of work on the plate of administrative staff but candidates often drop out of the process in frustration, opting to work for competitor organisations instead. However, simply by introducing a software platform that automates the credential and reference checking process, hundreds of hours are instantly saved for admin teams and frustration is eliminated for everyone involved in the process.  
  1. Make adoption the default  
    Humans are hardwired to prefer the status quo, which is why the most successful tech rollouts are those where the new process is established as the standard, default option. Choosing not to use new tech then becomes the harder, less preferable option. To make this work, all new technologies must be able to be integrated into existing workflows and ‘talk’ to systems already in place. 

Automation anxiety is a natural human reaction to change and modernisation in the workplace, and managing its impact is part and parcel of any successful transformation process. Although it requires effort, it’s certainly worth it. When proven automation tools are deployed to reduce the excessive administrative workloads fanning the flames of the burnout crisis, capacity will be increased, staff retention will improve, time and money will be saved, and ultimately, patients will benefit from safer, better-quality treatment. 


Dr Kit Latham studied medicine (specialising in surgery) in the UK at The University of Leeds. After attending London Business School and completing a master’s degree in Technology Entrepreneurship at University College London (UCL), he worked as an Emergency Physician in England’s NHS. In 2016, he founded Credentially, a global company revolutionising HR processes and delivering efficiencies for healthcare organisations with machine learning and computer vision technology.  

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